These first chapters deal with the process of becoming critical readers and the role that writing plays in that process. Writing plays a major role in college – as students quickly realize; however, writing plays a significant role in ALL professions, so developing writing skills is a necessity if students want to succeed in their future careers.
The excerpted passage that is posted below in the textbox come from Amy Guptill’s book Writing in College, Chapter 1. Read the passage and complete the Reflection Journal.
Chapter 1: Really? Writing? Again?
Yes. Writing. Again.
Obviously you can write. And in the age of Facebook and smartphones, you might be writing all the time, perhaps more often than speaking. Many students today are awash in text like no other generation before. You may have even performed so well in high school that you’re deemed fully competent in college level writing and are now excused from taking a composition course.
So why spend yet more time and attention on writing skills? Research shows that deliberate practice—that is, close focus on improving one’s skills—makes all the difference in how one performs. Revisiting the craft of writing—especially on the early end of college—will improve your writing much more than simply producing page after page in the same old way. Becoming an excellent communicator will save you a lot of time and hassle in your studies, advance your career, and promote better relationships and a higher quality of life off the job. Honing your writing is a good use of your scarce time.
Also consider this: a recent survey of employers conducted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that 89 percent of employers say that colleges and universities should place more emphasis on “the ability to effectively communicate orally and in writing.”1 It was the single-most favored skill in this survey. In addition, several of the other valued skills are grounded in written communication: “Critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills” (81%); “The ability to analyze and solve complex problems” (75%); and “The ability to locate, organize, and evaluate information from multiple sources” (68%). This emphasis on communication probably reflects the changing reality of work in the professions. Employers also reported that employees will have to “take on more responsibilities,” “use a broader set of skills,” “work harder to coordinate with other departments,” face “more complex” challenges, and mobilize “higher levels of learning and knowledge.”2 If you want to be a professional who interacts frequently with others3—presumably you do; you’re in college—you have to be someone who can anticipate and solve complex problems and coordinate your work with others,4 all of which depend on effective communication….
The pay-off from improving your writing comes much sooner than graduation. Suppose you complete about 40 classes for a 120-credit bachelors’ degree, and—averaging across writing-intensive and non-writing-intensive courses—you produce about 2500 words of formal writing per class. Even with that low estimate, you’ll write 100,000 words over your college career. That’s about equivalent to a 330-page book. Spending a few hours sharpening your writing skills will make those 100,000 words much easier and more rewarding to write. All of your professors care about good writing, whether or not they see their courses as a means to improve it. Formal written work is the coin of the academic realm. Creating and sharing knowledge—the whole point of the academy—depends on writing. You may have gotten a lot of positive feedback on your writing before college, but it’s important to note that writing in college is distinct in ways that reflect the origins of higher education….
College writing is different
Compared to high school, college is a fundamentally different educational model; as a result the purposes and expectations for writing are different. You have learned many of the essential skills and practices of formal written communication throughout your schooling; now it’s time to take your writing a step further.
By the end of high school you probably mastered many of the key conventions of standard academic English such as paragraphing, sentence-level mechanics, and the use of thesis statements. The essay portion of the SAT measures important skills such as organizing evidence within paragraphs that relate to a clear, consistent thesis, and choosing words and sentence structures to effectively convey your meaning. These practices are foundational, and your teachers have given you a wonderful gift in helping you master them. However, college writing assignments require you to apply those skills to new intellectual challenges. Professors assign papers because they want you to think rigorously and deeply about important questions in their fields. To your instructors, writing is for working out complex ideas, not just explaining them. A paper that would earn a top score on the SAT might only get a C or D in a college class if it doesn’t show original and ambitious thinking.
Professors look at you as independent junior scholars and imagine you writing as someone who has a genuine, driving interest in tackling a complex question. They envision you approaching an assignment without a pre-existing thesis. They expect you to look deep into the evidence, consider several alternative explanations, and work out an original, insightful argument that you actually care about. This kind of scholarly approach usually entails writing a rough draft, through which you work out an ambitious thesis and the scope of your argument, 9 and then starting over with a wholly rewritten second draft containing a mostly complete argument anchored by a refined thesis. In that second round, you’ll discover holes in the argument that should be remedied, counter-arguments that should be acknowledged and addressed, and important implications that should be noted. When the paper is substantially complete, you’ll go through it again to tighten up the writing and ensure clarity.10 Writing a paper isn’t about getting the “right answer” and adhering to basic conventions; it’s about joining an academic conversation with something original to say, borne of rigorous thought.
My own experience as an instructor indicates that few students approach writing college papers in the way that professors envision. Many students first figure out what they want to say and then (and only then) write it down as clearly (and quickly) as they can. One quick round of proof-reading and they’re done. Many students have a powerful distaste for truly revising (i.e., actually rewriting) a paper because it feels like throwing away hard-won text. Consequently, when students are invited or required to revise an essay, they tend to focus on correcting mechanical errors, making a few superficial changes that do not entail any rethinking or major changes. Professors find that tendency incredibly frustrating. Some instructors craft an assignment sequence to force a true revising process; others leave it up to you. Virtually all shape their expectations for the final project around the idea that you’re writing to learn, writing to develop, writing to think—not just writing to express.
Another major impact of this shift to a junior-scholar role is that you not only have to learn to write like a scholar, you also have to learn to write like a political scientist, a chemist, an art historian, and a statistician—sometimes all in the same semester. While most of the conventions of academic writing are common across disciplines, there is some variation. Your professors—immersed as they are in their own fields—may forget that you have such varied demands, and they may not take class time to explain the particular conventions of their field. For every new field of study, you’re like a traveler visiting a foreign culture and learning how to get along. Locals will often do you the kindness of explaining something, but you’ll have to sleuth out a lot of things on your own.
So what do professors want?
At one time or another, most students will find themselves frustrated by a professor’s recalcitrant refusal to simply “Tell us what you want!” It’s a natural feeling and, at times, a legitimate one. While all professors want to set you up to succeed, they may find their expectations hard to articulate, in part because they struggle to remember what it’s like to be a beginner in the field. Often, however, the bigger and better reason that professors won’t just tell you what to do is that there simply isn’t a particular “answer” they want you to give in the paper. They want to see your own ambitious and careful analysis. Some students assume that they should be able to envision a paper and its thesis within minutes of receiving the assignment; if not, they complain that the assignment is unclear. Other students assume that every professor has a completely different set of expectations and, consequently, conclude that writing papers is just an unavoidable guessing game about entirely subjective and idiosyncratic standards. Neither of those assumptions are true. Good, well constructed writing assignments are supposed to be challenging to write, and professors are, above all, looking for your own self-motivated intellectual work.
Despite some variations by discipline, college instructors are bringing similar standards to evaluating student work. Recently, the Association of American Colleges and Universities has brought together faculty members from across the country to deliberate on the core knowledge and skills that define liberal arts education. They have also worked out benchmarks of success, as summarized in a rubric for written communication. Check it out! While few instructors are sitting down with the AAC&U rubric to determine grades on papers, you can be confident that these are the kinds of things almost all professors are looking for. The language of the “capstone” column illustrates especially well the scholarly mindset and independent work habits they expect students to bring to their work:
“thorough understanding of context, audience, and purpose,”
“mastery of the subject,”
“detailed attention” to writing conventions,
“skillful use of high-quality, credible, relevant sources,” and
Professors want to see that you’ve thought through a problem and taken the time and effort to explain your thinking in precise language….
As you think about writing for your college courses, for your profession, and for other life-events, remember that communication isn’t just about expressing yourself; it’s about connecting with others. And it’s other people—in families, couples, communities, and workplaces—that shape the most important experiences of your life.
Reflection Journal #2
Guptill addresses two key points:
1. the differences between high school writing and college writing
2. the importance of good communication skills in the professional world
This Reflection Journal (RJ) is asking you to first, reflect on the past. Second, this RJ is asking you to consider the future.
Part I: Reflect on your past experiences writing in high school and compare them to writing in college. Choose two or three questions below and respond logically and clearly:
- What specific differences have you found between high school and college writing?
- What have been the challenges you have faced when asked to complete a writing assignment in college?
- What have been your successes when writing in college?
- What have you learned about writing since being in college that you did not know or were not aware of in high school?
PART II: Perform a Google search to find an article that addresses the relationship between effective communication practices/skills and your future profession.
After you read the article, first, summarize its key points/main ideas. Then address skills/traits discussed in the article that you believe you need to improve as you move through college so you can communicate effectively in the “real world.” Be sure to explain your choices.